Sunday, March 26, 2017

Stonehenge—Legends and Fact, Tricia McGill

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The authors among us who like to write about past ages, whether it be fact or pure fiction, are universally research nerds. We must love the research entailed in writing time-travels and historicals, or we would never be able to proceed with our work. I’m in the process of re-working one of my older books and this brought to mind the subject of this post, as my characters pass Stonehenge on their journey to the west of England (Circa 450 AD).

Years ago, too many to think about, but let’s say a long time ago, on the way to the west of England with family, we passed Stonehenge where it stood in all its stark glory on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. I am ashamed to admit that I took scant notice of it back then as my interest in history was merely budding and it’s likely I had other things to occupy my young mind. From memory, the stones were not surrounded by any restrictions and I vaguely recall we left the car at the side of the nearby road, walked around, and near them easily. Many of the original stones have fallen or been removed by what can only be called vandals. Thank goodness contact by tourists and visitors to the stones has been prohibited since 1978.

Sadly, no one in my family thought to take a photograph so I have no solid proof that I stood beneath these monumental stones and wondered how on earth they got there. This is one question that has puzzled historians for many years. There are numerous theories and a few myths surrounding Stonehenge. Despite its dilapidation and mistreatment by generations of thoughtless people it is still a sight no one visiting Britain should miss.

Stonehenge is situated in this vast plain, surrounded by hundreds of round barrows, or burial mounds. Will the mystery of who actually built it, and for what reason, ever be solved completely? Some say it is a sacred place, some say it is steeped in magic, some say it was honoured by the ancient folk who went to so much trouble to build it.

Its construction has been attributed to many different groups, but the most enduring conjecture seems to be the Druids were responsible. But then Druids did their worshipping in forests so why would they go to the trouble to trundle such large stones from miles away when they had no real use for them? Julius Caesar and other Roman storytellers wrote of a Celtic priesthood who might have been connected, but by that time the stones were already about 2000 years old. Then there is the guess that the site was started in the late Neolithic period around 3000BC and carried over to the so-called Beaker Folk who, according to archaeological finds, began to use metal implements.

The mystery of how the giant sarsen stone that weighed as much as 50 tons each got from the Marlborough Downs about 20 miles north of the Plain to their final destination, not to mention the moving of the bluestones, remains today. Modern studies have calculated that at least 600 men would have been required to just get each stone across obstacles on the route.

Around 2100BC as the Bronze Age made its presence felt in North/West Europe Stonehenge was dismantled and rebuilt on a more impressive scale, with two rings. It is thought the purpose was to record the cycles of the sun and moon (with accuracy) at summer and winter solstices. The sheer scale of Stonehenge suggests it was meant for some ceremonial practice.

On site, the sarsen stone had to be prepared to take the lintels along the top surface. The mind boggles at the enormity of this task taking place with none of the modern machinery at hand today. Levers were likely used to raise each stone until gravity ensured it slid into a prepared hole. Then, manpower was used to pull the stone upright. It is estimated Stonehenge was finally completed around 1500 BC.

We must not forget the legends surrounding Stonehenge. Being a romantic, I half believe this one as it involves King Arthur’s Merlin. The 12th century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth in his “History of the Kings of Britain” claimed that Merlin brought the stones from Ireland.

Okay the story gets a bit far-fetched when he claims the stones of the original Giant’s Ring were brought to Ireland from Africa (How? you ask) well by giants of course. The stones were located on Mount Killaraus where they had been used as a site for rituals and healing. King Uther and Merlin arrived in Ireland, arranged for the dismantling of the stones to be transported to Britain (by giants and magic) where they were erected in a great circle. This circle was in memory of 300 British noblemen who were massacred by the Saxon leader, Hengest, around the 5th century.

Speculation and experimentation will go on forever and no doubt there will be new evidence springing up in the future. We should not forget the aliens from another planet theory. As space exploration goes forward in search of a new planet for the human race to occupy, new answers may arise. I’m sad that I will not be here to learn the actual truth. But, who knows, I might be reincarnated by then. I only hope I come back as a scientist or space explorer.

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